Dreaming of your own home theater? I get it: big screen, 4K projector, weekend movie marathons… Just add popcorn and you have the perfect monoplex right in your living room.
Ah, but the problem is with the projector, right? You usually need to buy and install a ceiling mount and then run the wires through the drywall so you can connect to a power source and connect to some sort of speaker system. Expensive, difficult… tough passage.
Thank god ultra short throw (UST) projectors that you park right up against the wall to enjoy up to 120 inches of home theater quality. I’ve tested several of these projectors, including the Bomaker Polaris and Vava 4K, and found that they all do some good and some not. So, how to compare Xgimi Aura?
On paper, it’s very similar, offering HDR10-enhanced 4K imaging, built-in audio courtesy of Harman Kardon, and a very respectable 2,400 ANSI lumens (a measure of projector brightness). But in one key respect, the Aura seems to outperform the aforementioned competitors: it comes with Android TV 10.0 built-in. This Google-powered operating system makes streaming out of the box easy (mostly).
However, it has its drawbacks, not to mention the rather high price of $2,799, although it sells for $2,239 on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. (Be sure to also select the “Additional Savings” option, as you’ll also receive a free Xgimi streaming key when you add it to your cart with the projector.) It’s a significant investment that begs the question: aren’t you better off? with a big TV?
Which is better: a projector or a large TV?
Not so long ago, “home theater” was synonymous with “projector”. You cannot have one without the other. Today, massive TVs are increasingly not so massive prices. Check out some of the pre-Black Friday deals, including this 86-inch LG TV that was selling for less than $1,000 (until it sold out). You can find others in the $1200 range.
That’s about half the price of this projector, and don’t forget the wall-mounted screen you’ll probably need to purchase. (You may be able to project onto a white or light gray wall, but unless it’s perfectly smooth and flat, you probably won’t be happy with the resulting image.)
Sure, 86 inches isn’t as big as 100 inches (and you’d need a pretty massive wall to fit anything bigger), but it’s a heck of a lot. And the TV will definitely be brighter, especially with natural light in the room. As much as I love the idea of a movie theater with a projector, I’m starting to think the TV option makes more sense. It’s cheaper, brighter, and only slightly smaller.
However, if you have a darkened room designed for this and a really big wall to fill in, UST can still be a great option. Let’s dive into the pros and cons of Xgimi Aura.
Xgimi Aura: installation and launch
It’s a really nice projector, finished in silver and black, with a matching remote control. Its laser technology promises up to 25,000 hours of life, far better than any lamp-based projector. Xgimi recommends pairing it with an Ambient Light Rejection (ALR) screen and it can be expensive; this 100″ ALR screen sells for $500.
Setup is relatively easy, thanks in part to the clearly written printed instructions. The projector itself has four adjustable feet so you can make small level adjustments, and it also offers 4- and 8-point digital keystone correction. This allows you to make further adjustments to the image (using the remote control) to make it fit your wall or screen. However, there is no zoom, digital or otherwise, so you may have to move the projector closer to or further from the wall to get the image size you want. Luckily, autofocus kicks in when you make these changes.
From there, you just need to turn on and follow the instructions to set up Android TV. Whether you’ve ever had a real Android TV or just an Android phone, you’ll feel right at home.
The projector is equipped with three HDMI inputs for external devices such as cable box and game console. However, while one of them has ARC support for use with a soundbar, it doesn’t support eARC – something to consider if you want to use Dolby Atmos in your sound mix. (ARC by itself cannot send lossless Atmos signals.)
Xgimi Aura: what it looks like, what it sounds like
Like the vast majority of projectors, the Aura works best in a darkened room. It doesn’t need pitch darkness, but if your space is well lit or next to a window, you’ll probably find the image to be quite blurry. You can see the Android TV menu quite well with the lights on, but a show like House of the Dragon, which includes a lot of dark scenes, is barely visible.
However, when things get dim, Aura produces bright, crisp video that can really stop you (or, more likely, keep you on the couch). In my tests, the images looked beautiful overall, although some colors popped out more than others. Indeed, I was hoping for a little more brightness and contrast, but I will note that since my projection screen was not ALR, I might not get the best results. What’s more, I had to apply a lot of keystone correction to get the image to fit my screen, and this can also affect the brightness.
The Harman Kardon Xgimi’s built-in speakers are pretty decent considering they’re built into the projector, but I suspect you’ll need a more powerful sound system to accompany your big screen. In my modest-sized basement, I found that sometimes I had to turn up the volume quite a bit to get a more movie-like sound. Something like this really needs to be paired with a surround sound system like the Polk Audio MagniFi Max AX SR or the Samsung HW-Q990B/ZA.
Xgimi Aura: not a perfect projector
I admit I was a little disappointed with the Aura remote, which is not backlit and lacks dedicated play/pause and skip buttons. You can use the directional pad and center select button for these functions, but they feel unintuitive compared to what you’ll find on most remotes.
Also, while the remote has a Google voice search button, which is great for things like finding apps and shows, it’s slow to respond. In my tests, I pressed a button and had to wait a few seconds before the voice recognition worked.
Another gripe: there is no button for switching inputs on the remote control. Instead, you need to navigate to the Android TV interface to find the input icon (which, if you don’t know what to look for, isn’t exactly obvious). Even more annoying is that the projector does not retain the selected input from one viewing session to the next. If you have previously been connected to, say, a game console, next time you will have to manually select this input again. This is an annoying problem (although it’s easy to fix with a firmware update if Xgimi chooses to do so).
There are surprisingly few image controls. The four presets (Cinema, Football, Game, and Office) cannot be changed at all, and the Custom option is rather limited in what it allows you to customize. Unfortunately, it’s also the only mode that allows you to turn off motion smoothing, which creates a terrible soap opera effect. This is normal for games and football, but terrible for cinema mode.
Finally, there is one glaring issue with this Android implementation, and that is Netflix: it just doesn’t work despite appearing in the list of available apps you can install during installation. This is due to some kind of licensing restriction that many projectors suffer from, but it’s quite annoying for everyone who wants to use this service. One possible workaround could be to use Chromecast’s built-in option to stream Netflix from your phone or tablet, but that returns the same “device not supported” error.
The only workaround that really works is to plug in some kind of streaming device, be it an Apple TV, Fire TV, Roku, or the free Xgimi Streaming Dongle mentioned above. If you plan on using a gaming console, that will work too.
Xgimi Aura: Is it worth buying?
As much as I love the idea of Xgimi Aura, I’m not thrilled with the execution. While I’m sure any movie enthusiast will love the gigantic theatrical experience it provides, an extra-large TV has the best overall offering: a brighter, more colorful picture; more control over this image; a working Netflix implementation, and so on. And it will probably cost less.
In fact, we may be moving away from the era of projectors and think that a real home theater needs it. However, if you’re in the mood for something like this, the current sale represents a significant savings.
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